Io, in many ways, is the quintessential Greek Myth. In addition to highlighting the anthropomorphic nature of the Greek Pantheon, Io also serves as a creation story. Furthermore, the story of Io makes apparent the series of cause and effect relationships--set in motion by the Fates--that dictate the lives of mortals, gods, and demi-gods alike. To new readers, what is sometimes most striking about the almighty Zeus, Lord of the Heavens, or his wife, hera, is not their austere majesty, but their humanity. In countless stories, Zeus is the living portrait of the unfaithful husband, and Hera, the living portrait of the infinitely jealous wife. Despite their immortality, and impossible beauty, these gods are not governed by boundless wisdom, but by recognizably human emotions--love, lust, jealousy, and wrath. Even more striking, and somewhat disconcerting, is that these fickle and vengeful masters of the universe have all of humanity as their playthings. The story of Io, for example, is set in motion by Zeus’ lust for her. Io’s subsequent transformation into a cow, and years of suffering and estrangement from her friends and family, are merely the whims of a jealous woman. What this story makes clear, is that although these gods attempt to distance themselves from humanity, they have quite a lot in common. In the world of Greek mythology, the phrase “made in God’s image,” rings more true than in the judeo-christian tradition.

         This point aside, the story of Io is also emblematic of the Creation Myth. This story, in particular, explains the origins of two phenomenon observable in the natural world; the sea of Bosphorus and the feather of the peacock. “Bosphorus” in this case, translates to cow, and is named in honor of Io’s deep sea pilgrimage across this previously unnamed body of water. In addition, according to this story, peacock’s got their celebrated feathers from the severed head of the watchman, Argus. After Argus’ death, Hera, in grief, attaches his many eyed head to the tail of a peacock, thus assuring his symbolic immortality.

         Finally, the story of Io stresses the web of fate that both explains all things that already have been, and all things that will one day be. For example, upon meeting Io, Prometheus tell her how to regain her true form, and also reveals that she will be the mother to a line of kings and heroes, one of whom, Hercules, will free him from his mountain prison. As any reader of Greek myths knows, Prometheus’ words prove prophetic. This piece is perfect as part of an introduction to myths, folktales and fables, particularly those designed for a younger audience. In addition, this piece also works well as part of a lesson on creation stories, and can be used to help inspire students to write their own creation myths.


Standards Addressed:


Quote accurately from a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.


Determine a theme of a story, drama, or poem from details in the text, including how characters in a story or drama respond to challenges or how the speaker in a poem reflects upon a topic; summarize the text.


Explain how a series of chapters, scenes, or stanzas fits together to provide the overall structure of a particular story, drama, or poem.


Compare and contrast stories in the same genre (e.g., mysteries and adventure stories) on their approaches to similar themes and topics.


Before Reading

When you think of gods, or goddesses, what do you normally think of? Do the Greek gods portrayed in this story match up to the images and descriptions in your head? Why, or why not?

During Reading

 According to the story, why doesn’t Io recognize Zeus? Who does she think he is? Quote directly from the story to support your answer. (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.5.1)

 Why does Hera want to stop Zeus from spending time with Io? In addition, why does Hera turn Io into a cow? And why does Zeus agree to give Io up? Use examples from the text to support your answer. (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.5.2)


After Reading

 In your opinion, what part of the story is the moment of climax, or the point of highest tension? (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.5.5)

 A “Creation Myth” is a symbolic story that explains how certain things came to be. Based on this definition, choose one of the two examples of creation myths contained in this story, and summarize it. Use details from the text to write your summary. (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.5.2)


Connections In Text

 Read the story of Arachne contained within the Books That Grow library. Compare the characterization of the goddess Athena, with the characterizations of Zeus and Hera in the story of Io. How are these characters portrayed similarly and differently? Which portrayal is more sympathetic, and why? (CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RL.5.9)


Further Readings

For Teachers:

This link provides teachers with a detailed analysis of this story. It gives significant attention to Io’s chance meeting with Prometheus at the end, and explains the symbolic importance of this meeting.